The Don’s are one of the newer colligate programs in the bay area. The Dons are currently a member of the Northern California Men’s Small College Collegiate Rugby Conference (Division II) which bolsters some National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) programs like Cal Maritime, Santa Rosa JC and others. The Don’s just wrapped up their season with one of their best records ever going 5-2 on the season and finishing fourth in their conference out of eight teams. The Don’s finished with 25 points in the standings (note the winner Cal Maritime Academy finished with 31 points in the standings). Most importantly they are going to the playoff for their third year in a row!
The Dons compete in a high quality league, but also in what is a hot bed of rugby (the San Francisco Bay Area). In addition to the clubs in their league, in the area the Dons counter parts include the likes of Saint Mary’s College, Cal, San Jose State, San Francisco State, Santa Clara and Stanford. There are also a number of senior men’s clubs in their immediate area such as the national power San Francisco Golden Gate, Olympic Club, BA Baracus, San Francisco Fog, Diablo Gaels, Marin REDs, and Berkeley RFC. Last year San Francisco played home to the Rush of PRO Rugby, and will be the host city for the 2018 Rugby 7s World Cup.
Needless to say the Dons’ program sits in a rugby rich community with many outlets for rugby. While this is still a fairly new program, the Dons continue to work and improve and as noted this year the marked their best finish in their short history. They are again a playoff side looking for a shot at making a run at nationals.
We reached out the Dons earlier this year to learn more about this program. We were able connect with the Dons and Hector Monroy (a current winger with the club) provided us with answers to some of our questions, below is our interview.
The Rugby Republic (RR): So tell us who are the club’s coaches, etc.?
Hector Monory for the Dons (Dons): Our Head Coach is Robert Azcarate-Bascherini he is an USF Alum and the University’s Club Sports Coordinator . Our Assistant Coaches are Ricardo Reynolds, Gavin Creps, and Michael Arehart. Elton Rangel is our Club President and our Captain is Riley Lynch.
RR: When was rugby formed at USF?
Dons: This is the ninth season that USFRC has been competing. The club was founded as a part of the sports clubs program at the Koret fitness center on campus. The program us under the university’s health and recreation program.
RR: So what were some of the goals for this season?
Dons: At the beginning of the year, the team collectively agreed that we wanted an improved record at the end of the season as well as making a third consecutive playoff appearance. Growth as individuals was another popular theme among players.
RR: What lead to success last season?
Dons: A lot of the team’s success in the previous season was exceptional leadership. The officers of the club were tremendous on and off the field, as were the coaching staff. Many of the players in key positions were experienced and played a major role in the development of the newer players. A combination of good leadership and experience led to the development of an extremely disciplined squad.
RR: How does the club support itself? What is the university’s role in providing any support to the club?
Dons: As a club sport, the team receives less support from the university than other sports that fall under athletics. Most of the support the club receives is from the Koret fitness center. The sports club program is tremendous and subsidizes the majority of expenses such as kits and travel. Athletes pay a flat fee at the beginning of the season and any additional expenses are picked up by Koret. So its really a good deal compared to some other college rugby clubs.
RR: So are there challenges with being in San Francisco with so many other clubs and rugby outlets?
Dons: Rugby culture in San Francisco is great and only helps us grow as a club as the sport becomes more popular. While there are numerous other teams in the area, our club is only available to students that attend and take 12 credits at USF or SF City College (so we aren’t loosing players to other clubs). On the flip side it is difficult to keep adequate numbers at times since non-students are not allowed to participate in the club, however, our club is significantly less expensive to participate in, which attracts our students that would maybe look to play elsewhere.
RR: Do players have rugby experience prior to joining the club?
Dons: The majority of the players that join the club are brand new to the sport. Many times, new players will say that they were not aware that the club even existed on campus prior to the team’s recruitment efforts. These players are supported by the more experienced players and excellent coaching staff and we see tremendous growth by the end of the season.
RR: What relationship does the club have with the senior clubs and high schools in the area?
Dons: While there are many clubs in the area, our relationships with them are generally poor. We have a great relationship with other schools in the area however. Every preseason, we travel to University of the Pacific and participate in a round robin with SF State. It is a great way for all three programs to work and get new players some experience before the regular season starts where there is little room for error. Our final preseason game is always against SF State in the “Battle of the Bay”. USF has taken the trophy both years of the rivalry! Developing this relationship with a university that we share a city is a great experience for all the players and we played the first official rugby match on SF State’s campus this past year which is great for all the college rugby clubs.
RR: Do your players continue to play after college?
Dons: The majority of our players do not continue to play after graduation. However we do have a number of students who have come back to help coach the club or even go back to high schools and youth leagues and help there as a way to stay involved and grow the game.
RR: How do the Dons get ready for the season? Do you have a year round program/effort?
Dons: Our practices stay on a strict, twice a week schedule that start the week after classes start and continue into early December. We play as many preseason games as possible and try to progress to more complicated game plans as we move along in the season. Every January we have our hell week, where we have training twice a day, at 7am and 3pm, everyday for two weeks so we try and keep things going all during the school year.
RR: So what were the challenges of this season?
Dons: This season we had much more pressure to than in our previous season. After our great performance last year, we moved into the champions division where we are competing against some powerhouse teams such as Cal-Maritime Academy, Sierra Foothills and Santa Rosa JC. Many of our more experienced players did not return or graduated, including our club president and backs captain. As well as losses of the players, the club lost head coach Rod McLeod and struggled to find a replacement. We’ve had to play our entire 2016-2017 season without a paid head coach. Luckily our club sports coordinator (Robert Azcarate-Bascherini) has a rugby background and stepped in to fill the void. The structure they brought to the club has been missed and was a challenge to develop a solid leadership.
RR: Who is the Don’s main rival or a game each year that the boys really look forward to? Is it the Battle of the Bay you noted?
Dons: Although our league games can get pretty heated, our annual Battle of the Bay against San Francisco State is our most anticipated game. Being the only two universities in this great city (And USF being significantly smaller than SF State), a fight for supremacy is bound to happen. Each year we compete against our crosstown rivals and each year the match becomes more important. The match in 2016, SF State hosted us and we played the first ever match in Cox Stadium on the SF State campus. While this game has only been going on for 3 years, this rivalry will only grow as our clubs grow closer and hopefully we will keep the trophy at USF in the future.
RR: Why should rugby fans or other clubs take notice of the Dons?
Dons: Over the past four years, our club’s overall record has improved every year. From 4-3 in 2016 and now in 5-2 in 2017 (after losing our head coach) we are showing great progress as a club. Our club has also made the playoffs the last two years and have came a game away from competing in nationals both years. We have again been invited to compete in playoffs and are looking to make nationals for the first time. In short, we are a disciplined, hungry group of kids that are only getting better.
RR: Last question. What is the best part about playing rugby for USF? Is it the culture, the camaraderie the staff?
Dons: By far, the best part about playing for USF is the camaraderie established by the players. We take rugby culture very seriously as we feel that it is essential to the building of brotherhood. On and off the pitch we emphasize brotherhood because brothers play better than teammates. Our club is also known for taking that camaraderie to other aspects of the University, such as supporting the other clubs and teams and establishing good relationships with them. Overall, this makes the club very desirable and a fun group to be a part of.
We want to thank Hector Monroy the sophomore finance major for getting us the interview . He ensured we were able to get the information and contacts we needed to get this interview done. As Hector noted USF is a small school in a large city with a thriving rugby culture, and thus it can be easy to miss the Dons, but we hope you’ll take notice. These guys have continued to improve and grow while playing in a challenging league. We wish them luck in the playoffs and hope they can make a good run for nationals. We love to see California sides always do well nationally as it only bolsters our claims that the best rugby in the nation is played right here in the golden state. To the area senior clubs we call on you to reach out to the Dons so they can be a great feeder to clubs in the area who are always in need of an influx of new players and numbers and in this case you’ll be getting some guys with great experience and understanding of rugby culture. Again we wish the Dons the best of luck the rest of the way!